Science, Pandemic and Me

Science, Pandemic and Me

Has God ever revealed something to you suddenly? Have you ever felt a switch go off in your brain that resets your perspective?

I have.

New information, ideas and theories are some of my favorite things. I love to be struck with a new thought or to see a new correlation that will further inform how I interact with the world. However, I was not expecting to get one of those moments while learning about quantum physics.

As a homeschool mom I have the opportunity to delve deeply into topics that I have no interest in, and science, as a general rule, is one of those topics. Primarily because I don’t understand it, but the history of science is something that I have enjoyed reading to my kids this year.

Now, for the last two years, maybe three, our family life has been in upheaval. We’ve moved, we’ve left cross-cultural ministry, we’ve worked through mental health issues, processed through abusive leadership and our own failings. Then, just as we felt we were getting our feet under us, there happens to be a global pandemic.

No joke. We are on lockdown.

I’ve spent a lot of energy trying to figure out and understand why God does what he does and why he has made my personal path seemingly awful. I’ve tried to fix my personal and emotional issues. I’ve tried to find the meaning behind all the chaos. I’ve been angry. I’ve given up. I’ve tried to trust and let go but there has been a lingering sense of uncertainty when it comes to God.

I’m scared of what God will do. I’m scared of what he will ask me to walk through, especially if he is bent on increasing the intensity of my trials. That is a black hole I don’t want to look down.

But I’ve been reading all about Aristotle, Newton and Einstein and I found something amazing. Early scientists believed that the world ran like clockwork, that laws of nature were predictable once you learned what those specific laws were. You could calculate anything and know anything absolutely. These scientists held tightly to that belief, often stubbornly, and believed that they could measure everything with perfect precision.

However, the further (and smaller) the scientists moved into the field of physics, they were surprised to find that within the quantum world, measurement cannot be precise. In fact, you can’t measure or know all aspects of a quantum system at the same time. For example, if you set up an experiment to see how an electron would move around an atom, you would find that even though the experiment has been set up the same, the outcomes will be different. Scientists are forced to rely on averages and probabilities based on data from past observations. There is no way to tell, with any certainty, which path an electron will choose.

Ultimately, our best hope is to rest in probabilities. As Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle would say, “The universe has an element of flexibility at its core; that leaves some freedom and fluidity in our world.”

Now, hear me out because this is what I found so profound for my current circumstance.

First, I could hold on tight to the belief that everything is understandable. I could keep trying to find the right pattern of behavior or the right way of thinking and in this way, I would be a lot like Newton and other ancient scientists who saw the world as black and white. They saw a highly predictable world that functioned under stated and absolute laws. But this way of thinking brings no peace, it only brings war, and forces me into the game of blame because, if the outcome isn’t perfect or pleasant or good, then there must be something wrong in the system. Usually, that would be me, God or someone else.

Second, I could hold the belief that nothing is predictable and everything is chaos. This leads to straight nihilism and is a very scary place to go. It means that we have no control over anything, God is acting randomly and the world has no purpose. This belief system leads to a myriad of evils.

Thirdly, I could find a way to hold both and I believe that this is the truth of our world. A world and faith of probabilities. This means I hold the predictability of living by faith in one hand while holding onto the reality that chaos still exists in the world. I can trust God to act in a way that I would expect but accept that he may not. I can trust that he will provide housing and employment and food while at the same time accepting that he may not provide any of those. I can trust that he will keep us healthy while at the same time accepting that we might get very sick.

I have a hard time believing that God won’t throw me under some bus. I bide my time and wait for the next crisis and never enjoy the predictability of the present. I don’t want to live my life in that space anymore. I want to hold both truths simultaneously. 

So, that’s my goal during this current pandemic. I want to be able to believe that God will act as he has in the past while at the same time knowing that we may be out of a job soon but that doesn’t mean the world is running awry.

Because even though those quantum electrons and quarks are acting unpredictably, they still make the world work and they still create beauty and all of life.

A lot like God, I suppose.

Do you live in a world of certainty, chaos or do you fall somewhere in the middle? How has this pandemic changed your world?

Photo by serjan midili on Unsplash

12 Comments

  1. Stephanie Clarke May 26, 2020

    Thanks for your openness, Joy. Your words serve as great encouragement that although our situations and locations may be different, the struggle of finding peace in the uncertainty is much the same. The past three years have felt the most challenging of the almost 19 for me in this overseas life, but this current season is by far the hardest. It is so hard to count it all joy when I’m staring unemployment in the face from the part-time secular work I do to help subsidize and there are so many more questions than answers. So every day, sometimes every minute of every day, I have to remind myself that my Provider owns a cattle on a thousand hills and as unconventional as His ways may seem to me, He has never failed me or my family – and He never will!

    1. Joy Smalley May 27, 2020

      Hi Stephanie, thank you for sharing. I have a poem by Amy Carmichael on my kitchen cabinets and it’s first two lines are, ‘He has never failed thee yet, never will his love forget.’ I remind myself of that a lot, especially when I am really angry at something he’s doing, like, why can’t he share some of those cattle on his hills, lol. Blessings to you, Stephanie!

  2. Jennifer May 26, 2020

    And when you think about it, that third way makes a lot of sense with what we’ve experienced. When we look back, we see that yes, you/I, we all have been through a lot of bad stuff and sometimes it feels like God did throw us under the bus, and he sure doesn’t promise it won’t get worse….and yet…. he’s been there with us the whole time and has provided mercy in the middle of our painful circumstances.
    Thanks for sharing. It’s so valuable to hear someone else who is feeling this way. I’ll join you in your goal to hold both truths at the same time.

    1. Joy Smalley May 27, 2020

      Absolutely, Jennifer, I agree. He always finds a way to be faithful even when it seems that he has abandoned us. Blessings to you.

  3. Michele May 26, 2020

    Enneagram 5 geeking out over here! Joy! I love this! I think honestly I have been living by the principle that was your conclusion here for some time, but I never saw the science behind it, in fact, I had never heard of that Principle of Uncertainty, but I LOVE it! It’s also so insightful how the history of science has influenced our theology in the west. I think there is so much peace in embracing both the faithfulness of God to certain principles and the mystery- the humility to recognize we don’t get it yet and He is still God and still good when He doesn’t meet our expectations.
    I always love your writing, but this is probably my favorite so far!

    1. Joy Smalley May 27, 2020

      Yes, Michelle! I have been amazed at how philosophical science is, my mind has definitely been blown. I love what you said here, “I think there is so much peace in embracing both the faithfulness of God to certain principles and the mystery- the humility to recognize we don’t get it yet and He is still God and still good when He doesn’t meet our expectations.” Blessings to you!

  4. Johnna May 27, 2020

    This is so refreshing! Science on a blog that is written by people who may not be known for engaging in science. Makes me think of the beauty I find in a movie like The Theory of Everything about Stephen hawking. I’m not a big science person, but so often the study of science, especially quantum physics, brings me closer to God and provokes more awe for our Creator. Thank you!

    1. Joy Smalley May 27, 2020

      Hi Johnna. Science is amazing and beautiful, there is so much of God in it, it is enlightening! Blessings to you!

  5. Joanna May 27, 2020

    This is so poignant to my life. We put our all out there twice and twice our financial support was not enough. I could get bitter but I know that God is not my servant I am His and I know that He used that season to disciple me even if I didn’t get to disciple others the way I had hoped. I so often want to know the why. But isn’t beautiful that there is flexibility and fluidity in nature the very nature that shows the attributes of God. It’s this same flexibility that allows God to be full of Justice and Mercy equally at the same time.

    1. Joy Smalley May 27, 2020

      Hi Joanna, thank you for sharing. It is deep grief when our dreams and longings and desires are blocked. I love how you see the flexibility of the universe connected with God’s holding both justice and mercy. I think that is beautiful and so true. Blessings to you on your continued journey.

  6. Sarah Hilkemann May 27, 2020

    Thanks so much for this, Joy! I think there’s a lot of beauty in being honest about the wrestling as disciples of the Father. It used to scare me, not having all the right Christian answers, but I’m much more okay with there being tension in my relationship with God. I’m more okay with God being mysterious and with the fact that I don’t need to explain away all the bad things that happen. I’m not super into science but so appreciate you sharing this! 🙂

    1. Joy Smalley May 27, 2020

      Thanks, Sarah 🙂 I’m right there with you. I think there is a buffer around shame and fear when I claim that a+b=c, but all it takes is for a+b to equal something completely off the wall for me to realize that there has to be more to the world and God than I can comprehend. Blessings to you, friend.

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